Tackling childhood cancer in developing countries

One medical success story is increased cure rates for many childhood cancers - but this advance has only been in high income countries. We feature Tim Eden, founder of World Child Cancer.

Tim Eden presented with Bond International Development award 2018.jpg

Tim Eden presented with Bond International Development award 2018

The increase in cure rates has been especially true of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - from little expectation of survival in the late 1960s to 75-80% cure rates at present. But, in low income countries the cure rates sits at about 10% and middle income ones at 30% even now.

This disparity was the driving force to set up in 2007 World Child Cancer (WCC), a charity to support development of cancer services in developing countries when they ask for help.

The challenges for those in resource limited countries included lack of public and professional awareness of cancer, missed or delayed diagnoses, overwhelming other medical and/or social issues, lack of trained staff, difficulty in obtaining reliable supplies of medicines and poor facilities.

Tim Eden was the founding WCC medical trustee who implemented a proven model (pioneered by St Jude Hospital USA) of twinning partnerships linking established centres in HICs with those in developing ones to share experience, help in training in country  and assist in overcoming the challenges.

The first two years were needed to fundraise to enable the programmes to receive funding for training, data registration, subsidies for essential medicines accommodation for families and travel costs, and help to produce locally appropriate therapy. Tim took on several roles including recruiting over 60 individual specialists and 11 hospitals in high income countries willing to become partners and carrying out needs assessments for the first few projects.

In 2009 its first programme was opened and now WCC runs programmes in Malawi, Ghana ,Cameroon, Bangladesh, Philippines, Myanmar and Mexico, and jointly funds a six-country collaboration in Africa for Wilms Tumour treatment. Ideally, it has linked centres with two from HICs to widen the range and expertise of the visiting teachers. These volunteers have helped to train hundreds of healthcare professionals.

In the last three years alone over 12,000 children have accessed improved services in the countries where we work. The numbers of patients accessing care is increasing, treatment refusal /abandonment rates are falling and survival rates are slowly increasing. 

The programmes have progressed with time by including unit refurbishment, increased hygiene and reduction of cross infection. Progressively, we have widened the range of training visits to include - for example - pharmacists, data managers, psychologists and school teachers. We aim to deliver truly holistic care until centres become self- sufficient and sustainable. We are creating shared-care centre networks to reach out right across each country.

Tim remains a volunteer, patron and advisor to World Child Cancer. At 71 years, he feels “that there is so much left to do so that we can ensure that all children with cancer, no matter where they live, can be offered a chance of a cure and certainly relief of  symptoms.”

He was awarded “The BOND Volunteer” of the year for 2018 on 26 February 2018 for his work over the last 11 years.

Tim Eden is Founding Medical Trustee of World Child Cancer 2007-2013/now Medical Patron, Volunteer and Adviser + Emeritus Professor of Paediatric and Adolescent Oncology University of Manchester

Find out about RCPCH global child health programmmes